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Photo: Devin Muñoz
” ‘Cooped-Up’ is a contemporary dance performance viewed entirely from behind car windows,” reports Margo Vansynghel at
Crosscut.

I’m fascinated by all the different ways the arts are reaching out during our lockdown. Some efforts come off better than others, and a given organization may be kind of lame on one evening and on another delightful. We’re all learning as we go.

In this story, Seattle dancers offer performances for an audience in cars.

Margo Vansynghel writes at Crosscut, “Gedney Barclay sat in her idling car in a North Seattle Safeway parking lot, awaiting instructions. She could feel herself getting anxious. … She looked around — unsure of what would happen next — and glanced at the phone in her hand. The call from an unknown number would come anytime now. And then there would be no turning back.

“Barclay wasn’t involved in some kind of nefarious plot. She was about to participate in ‘Cooped-Up: Drive-in Dances for Cooped Up People,’ a contemporary dance performance by local company LanDforms, in which audience members view the proceedings through their own car windows. …

“Guided by pins on a digital map and a downloaded soundtrack — featuring songs,  poetry, a couple of old voicemail messages and mysterious clues — ticketed audience members drive through the city and visit performers at their homes. The dancers perform from porches, sun rooms, front yards, alleys and balconies while the audience, cocooned in 20 cars (one per household), drives up to watch at 10-minute intervals.

“ ‘It’s a wild journey all over Seattle,’ says LanDforms’ Leah Crosby. She and co-director Danielle Doell describe the show as a whimsical mashup of a drive-in movie, scavenger hunt, escape room and ‘durational performance’ tailored to and inspired by COVID-19 restrictions. Basically, they say, it’s like curbside pickup of food-to-go, but for dance. The first, mid-April performance of Cooped-Up sold out almost instantly. …

“Crosby and Doell are among the many local artists finding front yard and window workarounds to the stay-at-home order and ban on gatherings.

“Earlier in March, artist Rachel Kessler and On the Boards director Betsey Brock staged a citywide performance titled ‘Going the Social Distance,’ for which they collected song requests (and home addresses) from participants, donned cheerful costumes and biked to people’s houses blasting the songs through Bluetooth speakers. Isolated fine art photographers are venturing out to photograph people from a safe distance either outdoors or behind windows. In late April, KEXP radio DJ John Richards started broadcasting live concerts from his front yard. …

“Cooped-Up deals explicitly with our new corona-colored reality. In seven different dances created collaboratively over Zoom, the participating dancers bring their personal quarantine experiences (and corresponding cocktail of emotions) to the makeshift stage. However whimsical, the show doesn’t shy away from expressing the loneliness and the boredom specific to this cultural moment. …

“On a Zoom call with production manager (and frequent collaborator) Ari Kaufman in late March, the duo wondered: ‘How can we make a live performance right now?’ Doell says. …

“When Doell, who is also a youth educator, noticed that cooped-up kids in her neighborhood had been hunting for the stuffed animals neighbors placed in windows as a way to pass the time, she wondered, ‘Maybe we can make kind of a dance teddy bear hunt?’ …

“These are not improvised performances. Everything is timed to the minute, if not to the second: when the first audience member’s car leaves; when they should arrive at the next location; where every car should theoretically be at each point in the performance; when the next song is supposed to start; and when each dancer resumes their short loop. ….

‘At any given time during the show, there are basically seven miniperformances happening simultaneously, Crosby says. That’s a lot to keep track of.

“During the five-hour run of the show, she sits in her room in West Seattle, headphones on, surveying multiple screens and spreadsheets like an air traffic controller. Meanwhile, pacing in his kitchen about a dozen miles away, production manager Kaufman has his phone at the ready, in case a car gets lost or runs into any trouble. …

“The dancers, including Doell, say [they] miss the collective warmups and preshow rituals, the murmur as the audience trickles into the theater. When they’re done, there’s no applause. It’s a new shade of loneliness. But also one that has Doell reconnecting with her neighborhood, she says.

“ ‘A lot of neighbors were poking their heads out and being like: “Wow, what is happening?” ‘ Doell recalls. …

” ‘Normally, the audience member’s job is to pay money and then sit face-forward in a dark room where their identity is masked,’ she says. [In this performance, they] have to figure out where to go. Follow the clues. Find the dancer. Park by the gray garbage bin, not the green one — and don’t knock it over while backing up. …

“[Audience member Barclay] hadn’t ventured outside her neighborhood for a long time. Driving through the city was a poignant reminder of something she already knew: So many people, in house after apartment after studio, were going through the same isolation, the same loneliness. But for a few hours, from the relative safety of her car, Barclay felt like she’d made a connection — rekindled the kind of mutual appreciation between dancer and audience that electrifies live performance.

” ‘It made me feel way less alone,’ she says.”

More here.

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Photo: Ramon Dompor
Artist Carlos Ruiz works on his mural to cover the boards on the Jade Garden Restaurant. Ruiz and other local artists donated their time and paint to help several restaurants in Seattle.

As we all know, Washington State had the first cluster of coronavirus cases in the US, and it is still struggling. That’s why the Seattle Times decided to solicit stories for a Stepping Up series meant to bring residents some encouragement.

In one example, Chris Talbott reported on artists beautifying boarded-up storefronts.

“Plywood is going up all over town. It’s not pretty. Give Seattle’s art community a little time, though, and it will catch up. Already artists are out and about, painting  murals to combat the growing blight as the novel coronavirus pandemic forces continued closures of local businesses and restaurants.

” ‘I have been homebound mostly like everybody else and trying to think of ways that I can help my community,’ artist Amanda Bishop said.

‘I’ve been feeling a little bit helpless because I’m not on the front lines. I’m not a nurse, I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a ton of money and my husband and I both lost work because of the virus. So when this opportunity came up, I was like, “This is a way that I can use my skills because this is my full-time thing.” ‘

“Working with permission from owners through the group Overall Creative, Bishop has started painting murals. She spent Sunday at the corner of Pike Street and 10th Avenue working in front of the Comet Tavern and Lost Lake Café along with other artists, each presenting their own vision. …

“Bishop said, ‘I actually did have a lot of people come up and say thank you. And I’ve done a ton of murals over the last eight years of doing this professionally and I haven’t had that as much as I had the last two days.’

“Plywood started going up [in March] after vandals began smashing windows of closed businesses. That led to more plywood from store owners who feared they might be next. Things were starting to look bleak all over town.

“The folks at Venue in Ballard realized this immediately. The shop sells the work of local artists and features a row of large picture windows. There was no question the windows needed to be covered up, but plywood seemed so … blah. So owners decided to hire a painter to beautify the plywood with a forest scene. …

“Venue owner Diane Macrae said, ‘Knowing artists are struggling as well with canceled shows and lack of sales, we figured it was a chance to provide some additional work for them. Our store is all about supporting local artists, so it made sense to continue to do this during this time in any way we can.’

“A similar effort has been under way in the International District and Little Saigon areas after vandals took out the windows of several restaurants nearly two weeks ago. …

“Ivy Chan and her family, which has run Jade Garden for 17 years, aren’t sure if the vandals were trying to break in or were just out to cause damage. But she feels the opportunity arose because the streets are virtually empty thanks to the stay-at-home order.

“ ‘Those people, they like to take advantage of the fact that there’s less people now because they’re all trying to do their diligent part to stay home,’ Chan said. “And then other people are like, ’Oh, it’s easier for me to go out there and do stuff. There’s less police patrolling, there’s less eyes to watch.’ …

“Keoke Silvano, a local photographer, … organized a group of artists who proceeded to paint the colorful mural at Jade Garden. He hopes it’s just the start, and that painters who might be out of work or looking for a way to contribute will continue the effort for businesses forced into fortress mode. …

“ ‘It seems to me that some of these businesses might’ve been targeted because they are Asian businesses,’ Silvano said. … He decided to fight back and put out word to the art community. He ended up with a half dozen or so painters who decorated the front of Jade Garden in a variety of colorful styles. They used mostly spray paint to craft scenes that included a meal of noodles, vegetables and tea with a fortune cookie, and a Seattle skyline framed by jacaranda blossoms.”

More here.

Isn’t that the way things go? First something bad like vandalism happens, then individuals in the community basically say, “I’m not on that team” — and join forces.

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Photo: Low Income Housing Institute
Six tiny houses share a common deck in Lake Union Village, Seattle, Washington.

Believe it or not, there are lots of people who spend their time trying to make life better for everyone. I know how easy it is to get distracted by headlines featuring people doing the opposite, but I find that focusing on the helpers is better for my mental health. The following article shows how well things can work when a city tries to make life better for everyone by helping those most in need.

At the community development magazine Shelterforce, Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI), reported on a hopeful Seattle initiative.

“In 2017, I wrote a piece for Shelterforce on Seattle’s then-emerging effort to build tiny houses to shelter homeless families, couples, and singles. Over the past three years, Seattle has led the country in piloting this response to the homelessness crisis. …

“Tiny house villages are an effective crisis response to homelessness and have proven to be a rapid, cost-effective response with better outcomes than traditional shelters. …

“When Mayor Jenny Durkan took office in January 2018, she authorized the first tiny house village exclusively for homeless women. The Whittier Heights Village is located on property owned by Seattle public utility City Light and shelters single women, same-sex couples, seniors, pregnant women, and women with pets. The mayor also funded two additional villages: True Hope Village, which is church-sponsored and focuses on people of color including families with children; and Lake Union Village (LUV), for singles and couples, located on a city-owned parking lot. All three villages were planned, constructed, and opened in 2018, and together shelter 155 homeless people.

“How did this happen so quickly? The mayor prioritized the need. … A village requires anywhere from 6,000 to 30,000 square feet of vacant land, depending on the number of tiny houses and common facilities to be placed there. There are suitable urban infill sites zoned for residential and mixed use, as well as larger commercial and industrial sites.

“It takes careful research and help from local government to identify good sites, and we were quite surprised to find a large inventory of publicly owned underutilized and surplus sites held by the city, county, state and even the Port of Seattle. We also found multiple nonprofit, private, and church-owned properties that could be used. Nonprofit housing organizations own land that they hope to develop in the future, and these can be used on an interim basis, from two to four years, for a tiny house village.

“Each village needed only four to six months’ lead time to be constructed. … There are 15 to 34 tiny houses at each village, plus shared community kitchens, community meeting space, counseling offices, storage, donation huts, security huts, and plumbed bathrooms, showers, and laundry facilities.

“An effective partnership between multiple departments in the city and LIHI was key in setting up the villages. … LIHI staff led the effort to raise funds to construct the tiny houses, reaching out to hundreds of donors and volunteers. We applied for permits, led work parties to build the houses, and developed the management and staffing plans.

“We undertook extensive community outreach to neighbors, businesses, and the public, working alongside city staff, including the Seattle Police Department and the Human Services Department, which funds LIHI for operations and services. While not everyone was supportive, they were all provided detailed information on the management plan and code of conduct, and were invited to submit their names to serve on a community advisory committee. Each village, staffed 24/7, has Village Organizers and dedicated case managers to assist people in obtaining long-term housing, employment and services.”

At Shelterforce, here, you can read more details, including Lee’s assessment of how the tiny house approach compares with other initiatives to address homelessness.

Photo: Andrew Constantino
A row of tiny houses in the Georgetown Village in Seattle. I like how residents show their love for their place.

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Photo: KUOW
Civic poet Claudia Castro Luna created Seattle’s Poetic Grid and, leading workshops in libraries, helped residents express how they feel about the places they know.

My friend Ronnie Hess, a Wisconsin poet, linked to this story on Facebook, adding, “An excellent story but one that reminds me of Madison’s Echolocations, an anthology edited by past poets laureate of Madison Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman.”

On PBS News Hour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Claudia Castro Luna and others about Seattle’s Poetic Grid.

“Brown: The idea of the Poetic Grid is to capture a sense of place in a city going through rapid change, and to use the words of the people who live here. … Claudia Castro Luna dreamed up the online digital map in 2015, when she became Seattle’s first civic poet. …

“Luna: We all have stories to tell about the place we live in. And we all have memories attached to the place we live in. And so, [our workshop effort] was like opening up a faucet.

“And people have stories to tell. And that’s one of the marvelous things. At the end, I told them, you will write. You will see you will have a poem. And, indeed, they had one. …

“Brown: The poems for the grid span the city. Some are about home, memories of growing up in the affluent Blue Ridge neighborhood. Others are about homelessness, the cold concrete of a Seattle underpass.

“There are poems left in their native tongues, Spanish, Arabic. The writers run from well-established poets to first-timers. And they reflect the diversity of the changing city, where cranes dot the skyline.

“Luna: Some of the poems express very well what it feels like to not recognize the place you grew up in, because the buildings that you had so much attachment and were meaningful to you are no longer there …

“Koon Woon: I first moved in here when I couldn’t afford rent anywhere else in the city. And my uncle said well, there’s a room here for $60 a month. And I came here to look at it. And there’s this tiny little table. I said, I can put my typewriter on top of that. So, I took the room. …

“Brown: Koon Woon was born in China, but moved to Seattle in 1960. In the 1980s, he lived just a block from here, sometimes homeless, struggling with mental illness. His poem, ‘The High Walls I Cannot Scale,’ is now part of the grid. …

“For 17-year-old Lily Baumgart [Seattle Youth Poet Laureate], animals figured into her writing as well.

“Baumgart: The squirrels here are very aggressive. They expect to be fed by people. And so we’d write stories about why they’d come up to people, how humans’ interactions with animals change their behaviors. … Volunteer Park, they say there’s a giant squid in the reservoir, that if you could climb the fence, you could stick your hand into the bright water and feel his slimy body swimming by yours. When it rained we would hide in trees and feel their cold bark underneath our toes. We’d laugh so loud that the sky would be scared of us and our umbrella laughter. …

“Brown: Poetry brought something else to Claudia Castro Luna, a way to work through traumatic childhood memories of war in El Salvador that forced her family to leave their home when she was 14.

“Luna: It was a tremendous loss of place, of culture, of family, of language. [All] of my writing has to do with understanding that — what it meant to lose that place. And this is why I’m interested in other people’s lives and what they have to say about the place they occupy.”

More at PBS NewsHour, here. See the Poetic Grid here.

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Photo: Chuck Wolfe
Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Photographic urban diaries can help residents absorb what there are seeing and can ultimately influence city planning.

Cities are organic, changing, blossoming, decaying amalgams of individuals, buildings, dumps, businesses, trees, animals — so many elements that it is impossible to put your finger on what makes a great city great. It is even hard to get agreement on whether or not a particular city is great.

Seattle is a city that is very conscious of its idealistic character. And it’s one that keeps reaching higher.

Knute Berger at Crosscut writes, “No one wants a ‘better city’ more than Seattleites. … If anything is in our civic DNA, it is the drive of commerce and the determination to build not just a better city, but the ideal one: prosperous, just, beautiful.

“Tall order, and one around which there is much dispute. Charles Wolfe, a local land-use lawyer, author and urban observer has a suggestion to help us sort through some of our conflicts. He touts the personal documentation of the city we live in, urging us to create urban ‘diaries.’

“This isn’t self-indulgent ‘journaling’ but a thoughtful process of observing and recording a city — what works, where human activities thrive and what evokes our emotional responses.

“Wolfe’s latest book is Seeing the Better City (Island Press, $30), which is described as a tool kit for ‘how to explore, observe, and improve urban space.’ Wolfe — who has written for Crosscut and who is a friend — says the answer to a better city doesn’t start with a white board, an attitude or a bushel of land-use ordinances; it begins at the level of human experience and how we train ourselves to see it and understand it.

“Wolfe’s main medium is photography, aided by technology — geo-mapping, social media — to record his impressions and observations, which might range from how bikes, trains and pedestrians share space in Nice, France, to a homeless person’s tent with a grand view of Elliott Bay. …

“Why is keeping an urban diary worthwhile? Wolfe argues that it trains us to be better citizens, to care more and understand more about where we live. Therefore, we might be more motivated to attend meetings or offer insights and solutions into the planning process. …

“Wolfe’s book tells us urban diarists can also be useful to planners and policymakers. An urban diary ‘walk and talk’ workshop in Redmond created diaries of the town’s historic core — and that then informed the planning process. … When we all act like flâneurs, ‘trickle up’ urban planning can result. …

We don’t need to travel the world to be an urban diarist. Our own stomping grounds offer an infinite opportunity to feel and observe.”

More here.

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Attempts to improve housing for low-income people have often destroyed a sense of community. That’s eminently clear in Robert Kanigel’s new biography of Jane Jacobs, an activist who helped to end the construction of the large complexes known as the “projects.”

So there is some irony in a new Global Oneness film about a 70-year-old housing project that probably once destroyed a neighborhood but has since created its own sense of community. Today it is threatened with what sounds like very pleasant improvements.

Life is complicated.

The Global Oneness Project has interviewed Yesler Terrace residents and created a film to spark discussion of the pluses and minuses of revitalization.

Even the Walls is a short documentary about the multi-generational residents living within Yesler Terrrace, a public-housing neighborhood in downtown Seattle grappling with the forces of gentrification.

“For over 70 years, Yesler has been home to thousands of Asian, Asian American, African, African American, Native American, Hispanic, and Caucasian residents. The 30-acre property is being redeveloped quickly and the residents are being forced to make a decision — collect their memories and belongings and leave, or return to a place they know well, but do not recognize due to heavy reconstruction.

Even the Walls chronicles the intimate stories and experiences from the residents of Yessler and defines the human connection to home and community.”

The film is here. Lesson plans for teachers are here. And the good intentions of the City of Seattle are described here.

Photo: Seattle Housing
In an organic 70-year process, the residents of Seattle’s somewhat worn Yesler Terrace have made the “projects” into a real community. So not everyone is thrilled that improvements are afoot.

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Don’t throw it out. Fix it. That’s the philosophy in the”Repair” Café movement, which I learned about through the Christian Science Monitor, which highlights articles on people who “make a difference.”

It points to Kelly McCartney at Shareable.net, who writes: “In the Netherlands, mom and former journalist Martine Postma stumbled onto an idea that tacks the word ‘repair’ onto the familiar green mantra, ‘reduce, re-use, recycle.’ The result is community-based Repair Cafés where folks come together to fix their broken items. What started as a few neighbors in Amsterdam helping each other out has, two years later, become a much bigger deal, with 30 groups springing up around the country. …

“As Ms. Postma surmised, ‘Sustainability discussions are often about ideals, about what could be. After a certain number of workshops on how to grow your own mushrooms, people get tired. This is very hands on, very concrete. It’s about doing something together, in the here and now. …

“Similar endeavors have begun to crop up in the United States, as well. Sidling up alongside tool-lending libraries in a nice way, groups like the West Seattle Fixers Collective and the Missoula Urban Demonstration Project host do-it-yourself fix-it events and classes to help community members make needed repairs on broken items.” Read more here.

This reminds me of resilience circles, another people-helping-people movement that seems to be taking hold in the United States. Check out the word on resilience circles here.

Photograph: Jerry Lampen/Reuters/File


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